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I read my first fantasy book when I was 7 or 8. It was The Hobbit and it conjured up a magical world of adventure that I was fascinated by. I didn't stop at The Hobbit. I read the Greek Myths and then I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and later the Dragonlance sagas. Inevitably my favorite characters were the magicians or the people who somehow or another got some magical object that gave them an advantage in the adventure. As I grew up, I never got over my fascination with magic or fantasy books for that matter. And as I read each book, I thought about magic a lot and wondered if it was real or just some element of fantasy. Yet it was because of fantasy books that I discovered that magic was real.
When I was 16, a fellow student in my high school sat me down and told me about his experiences on the astral plane. He later admitted that he told me his experiences because he noticed I liked to read fantasy books and he was hoping to freak me out. The last thing he expected was for me to ask, with baited breath, if I could learn myself and if there were books on the topic. The next day he brought me a couple books and I eagerly read them and did the exercises, to see what would happen. At last, I had found out magic was real and more importantly that I could do it myself. It wasn't the same magic as what I read about in fantasy books, but it was something and I took that to heart. I read every book I could find and talked with whoever else was interested in the same topics. I tested everything I read, eager to see what I could do and how far I could take it....
"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last year this time I responded to an essay written by John Michael Greer titled, "A Bad Case of Methodist Envy: Copying Christian models of clergy is a Pagan dead end." His essay argued against the notion of payed professional clergy and my response was to argue in favor of professional clergy -- at least having the option of professional clergy. In this essay it is my hope to build upon the ideas I shared in last year's essay but also share further reflections on the subject of the evolving nature of Paganism in general and Pagan clergy in particular....
To assuage the sadness of knowing there is no more Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to come (or perhaps there is a but a long way off), I have been thinking about how English magic did fall into disrepute so that a man of Norrell's character found it necessary to make it respectable once more. One of the first examples to occur to me is Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman's Tale (hereafter CYT because I will tire of spelling it out).
CYT features one of the belated arrivals to pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales. The canon and his yeoman catch up to the pilgrims and the yeoman launches into a recital of the canon's alchemical life that soon makes his boss leave in a huff. The yeoman takes this opportunity to show that the canon is a scoundrel in this 'elvysshe craft' known as alchemy....
"Twelve hundred years had not yet passed
When the land extended and the peoples multiplied.
The land was bellowing like a bull,
The god got disturbed by their uproar.
Enlil heard their noise
And addressed the great gods,
"The noise of mankind has become too intense for me,
With their uproar I am deprived of sleep." --Atrahasis Epic
It is hard to make your way in our modern world without at least cursory knowledge of flood narratives in some form--whether that is the story of Noah and the Ark, Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, Metamorphoses, or many others from multiple cultures around the globe. Indeed, there is an ongoing relationship between man and the divine that involves water particularly as a cleansing agent. This particular post is not going to delve into the deeper meanings of punishment inflicted on humankind by the divine use of water. Rather, I'd like to take a look at theological implications for the Pagan community in the aftermath of one of the most significant natural disasters of this decade.
I was a prime observer of the 2015 Pagan Spirit Gathering deluge. I showed up on Sunday afternoon, and after a harrowing few days evacuated the area on Wednesday afternoon after having drove thirteen hours from Maryland to get there. During that short time period I witnessed marvelous acts of sacrifice and kindness--the kind that inspires me to continue doing my work as a minister in training for Circle Sanctuary. There is no question in my mind of the bond shared by our community, or the significance this event personified.
First and foremost, I have participated in and been witness to multiple conversations on creating intentional community. Many of us realized having our spiritual and emotional cup filled only once a year is not enough, and have begun seeking out like-minded individuals to either purchase land to live on or start some other form of community with more permanence. In this way it is possible to draw upon narratives like the Jewish diaspora for inspiration (not that I am comparing the Pagan community to the Jewish community). Having shared this particular experience as a whole, we carry our own pieces and memories of the loss with us, using it to fuel our search for something more.
Secondly, we are beginning to see more attention being garnered for climate change and its effects. It is a bit of bitter irony that while I am up to my knees in mud and we are pushing cars out of a lake, that California and other portions of the nation are still experiencing intense drought. This is only one example of how our weather is shifting in many ways due to mankind's involvement--highlighting a greater need to discuss remediation with our planet.
Lastly--and I'm throwing a hurt feelings disclaimer out there--events like the one we just experienced have large scale implications for "culling the herd." In mythology it's called cleansing the sinful. In today's society it's called where your heart lies. This event will have turned many off to the idea that PSG is worth their time or their money. We will see the numbers drop, but we will also see a strengthening of existing bonds in ways nothing else could have accomplished. For better or worse this event, this flood narrative of our modern time, has marked us as a people who love and work and sacrifice for each other. So for that I am grateful. #wearetribe
I am looking forward to the final episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on Sunday (I think it's begun in the States more recently). It's been fun seeing an 'alternate' history of magic, though I will be sad to see it end. It got me thinking about a period in history that leads to a lot of confusion. When people say 'witch hunts' most people still seem to think of the Middle Ages, though the worst years were part of the Early Modern era, sometimes known as the Renaissance (a much disputed term for a variety of reasons). While many see the dividing line as the Reformation, the roots of that change can be see in Wycliffe and the Lollards in the 14th century. I tend to see Gutenberg's innovation as a technological change, though even there printing existed before his moveable type -- but the speed of the technology has all kinds of impacts as we know in the internet age.
We may not think of magic as technology, but all knowledge is technology. A revolution in technology may be regarded as good or bad or something in between, but it usually hard to deny once it happens. A big change happened in the history of magic that had a huge impact that leads to the widespread witch hunts of the Early Modern era (and on into the so-called Age of Enlightenment). For background, I highly recommend you get Michael D. Bailey's Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. Perhaps easier to obtain is his briefer essay, 'The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages' (available via Project Muse in many libraries)....
I really, really wanted to write about the art of Mesopotamia for my next blog post, especially in light of the destruction of Mesopotamian art and artifacts by the Islamic State, but I have really found myself a wee bit sidetracked by the horrific events of June 17, 2015 when a young man named Dylann Roof sat in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina before turning his gun on the group. Nine people were murdered that day. Accompanying this news has been the debate about what has come to be known as the Confederate flag, and calls for it to be removed from the state capitol grounds of South Carolina. For those who may not be American, or have not followed the story, South Carolina not only continued to fly the Confederate flag on its state building lawn after the massacre, it was not even flown at half mast.
The Confederate flag has been a subject of much debate in the United States I would argue, since the end of the Civil War. For black people, it represents slavery and a horrible time in United States history. For those who fly it with pride, it is said to represent liberty. The argument has been heated and vehement on both sides. Why is this symbol so polarizing?...